Lynn Hilton Conyers' Transition honors stroke survivor Shelby Hilton, Jr.

Lynn Hilton Conyers’ Transition honors stroke survivor Shelby Hilton, Jr.

The road to recovery after a stroke can be challenging. For some survivors, damage to the brain can hinder the ability to say what’s on their minds or to find the right words, while others may have difficulty walking or using a hand.

But rather than putting that experience into words, Janet Marshman wanted to see the journey. So Marshman, a stroke coordinator at Sentara RMH Medical Center in Harrisonburg, Virginia, paired stroke survivors and their caregivers with local artists to create pieces that interpreted what it meant to experience a stroke.

“We do so much with stroke education, and I wanted to do something that brought different people together,” Marshman said.

The “Strokes of Distinction” art exhibit opened last month in a Harrisonburg art gallery.

Matt Coleman was 23 when he had a stroke. At the time he wasn’t sure what was happening.

“I didn’t know what a stroke was. I thought I’d slept on my side wrong,” he said. “It felt good to be able to let people know about my story and get the word out.”

Father-and-daughter artists Luis and Lucia Martinez titled their pieces about Coleman “Positive” and “Passing Time.”

Luis tried to imagine the fear Coleman felt and the frustration of not having control. In his piece, beneath the magnifying glass are written phrases like “no control” and “terrifying,” followed by one repeating word: positive.

Being positive was a huge part of Coleman’s recovery, helping him stick to a healthier lifestyle in which he quit smoking, started exercising and ate better. Now 35, he works as a stroke unit nurse.

“A lot of times people say, ‘You can’t understand what I’m going through,’” he said. “But I do understand, and I tell them it’s something you can recover from.”

The survivors and caregivers didn’t get to see the art until the night of the premiere. When the works were revealed, many were overwhelmed.

“Many of them had tears in their eyes when they saw it,” Marshman said. “They were moved and touched by what the artist had interpreted from their experience.”

Stroke caregiver Erma Taylor sees Greg Ballou's "Passing Cloud" at the art show premiere.

Stroke caregiver Erma Taylor sees Greg Ballou’s “Passing Cloud” at the art show premiere.

With Coleman, the Martinez duo wanted to convey how he felt during the stroke. It was 3 a.m. and Coleman couldn’t move one of his legs. Then he couldn’t move his arm and was having trouble speaking. When he looked at the clock, he saw red and purple colors coming from the ticking sound.

“The biggest thing that stuck out with my experience was seeing sounds, especially that clock,” he said. “I was really impressed with how it was put on canvas.”

Coleman appreciated being understood, and he wanted to use the show to share an important message about acting fast. When his stroke symptoms hit in the middle of the night, his wife immediately called 911.

“People think stroke symptoms are a short-term thing, that they’ll go away tomorrow,” he said. “But if this can prevent someone from doing that, it makes me feel really good about it.”

The art exhibit is now on display at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community’s Park Gables Gallery through August.

A selection of pieces from the “Strokes of Distinction” art exhibit:

"Passing Time" by Lucia Martinez honors stroke survivor Matt Coleman.

“Passing Time” by Lucia Martinez honors stroke survivor Matt Coleman.


Elaine Hurst's "One Moment" honors survivor Nevin Bender.

Elaine Hurst’s “One Moment” honors survivor Nevin Bender.


Chris Porter's "Hillbilly Mystic" honors survivor Doug Russell.

Chris Porter’s “Hillbilly Mystic” honors survivor Doug Russell.


"Circle of Light" by Barbara Gautcher honors survivor Betty Burkhart.

“Circle of Light” by Barbara Gautcher honors survivor Betty Burkhart.


Luis Martinez's "Positive" honors survivor Matt Coleman.

Luis Martinez’s “Positive” honors survivor Matt Coleman.


Greg Ballou's Passing Cloud honors survivor Don Taylor and his wife and caregiver, Erma.

Greg Ballou’s “Passing Cloud” honors survivor Don Taylor and his wife and caregiver, Erma.

Photos courtesy of Janet Marshman